One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Friday, January 30, 2015

TOMS: Mark 11

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 29, 2007

This chapter opens with the Triumphal Entry. This is the last straw for the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders. Here comes Jesus riding on a donkey into Jerusalem (remember we discussed before about the prophecy of the Messiah riding on a donkey) and the crowds of people were praising Him as the Messiah. This demonstration was pure blasphemy, as far as the leaders were concerned.

Jesus and the disciples stayed at Bethany, likely at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. In the morning, as they returned to Jerusalem, Jesus went to a fig tree to find something to eat, but found "nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs." (11:13) Jesus cursed the fig tree, and the next day, the disciples saw that it was withered away. Contrary to what most sermons I have heard on this, Jesus was not under the delusion that He would find figs on the tree. Mark clearly tells us that it was not the time for figs. It is not an incorrect application to say that we are supposed to bear spiritual fruit as Christians from this text, but it is not the primary interpretation or the reason Jesus cursed the tree. Jesus explains exactly what He was doing: "Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him." (11:22-23)

Jesus was giving the disciples a lesson in faith and how God miraculously responds. I have to be honest with you: I am troubled when I read verses like this. I wonder what kind of faith I really have. Jesus plainly said that whatever we ask we will receive if we ask in faith, but that's not how it seems to work for me. I don't know. What I do know and am confident in is that God is doing His work in my life as He sees fit.

In between the two episodes at the fig tree, we have the cleansing of the Temple, one of my all-time favorite Bible scenes. I remember looking at my Grandpa's Bible when I was a little kid and sat with my grandparents in church. It was one of those that had about a dozen or so pictures placed sporadically in the text. One of the pictures was a wild-eyed Jesus with a whip upsetting all the cages and tables in the Temple. I always think of that picture when I read this story. That had to have been a hilarious sight to see.

The last section of the chapter begins a series of questions the religious leaders asked Jesus. The first question, from the chief priests, scribes and elders was: "'By what authority are you doing these things, (primarily referring to the cleansing of the Temple) or who gave you this authority to do them?' Jesus said to them, "I will ask you one question...Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?" (11:28-30) Jesus cut through the hypocrisy. He knew that if He said He was acting on God's authority it would not convince them, so instead He asked them a similar question about authority. If they could not concede that John's ministry was from God, they had no business asking Him or anybody else about the legitimacy of their ministry. They weighed their options and finally said: "We do not know." (11:33, ESV) Hypocrites.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

TOMS: Mark 10

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 28, 2007

Mark writes his Gospel more like a journalist than any of the other three Gospels. John editorializes constantly, stating facts that have nothing to do with the actual story he is telling. Matthew and Luke stop to record long discourses by Jesus, things that a good journalist would pass over or summarize. Mark skips over those discourses and gives us a cursory retelling of the events. That makes Mark harder to comment on, because he doesn't record many of Jesus' important teachings nor does he explain things in great detail.

Honestly, most of the teachings Mark does record are mostly rehashes from Matthew. The first two gospels definitely have a lot in common. Personally, I can identify more with Mark than the other Gospels as I am reading it, but it is hard to come up with fresh material out of him. Of course that does not mean that one or the other is more or less inspired, it just means that the Lord allowed the writers to approach the story in significantly different ways.

This chapter starts with Jesus' teaching about divorce, which we discussed in Matthew. I think it is important to dissect Jesus' summary statement: "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." (10:11-12) We must understand this in light of whom Jesus was addressing - the Pharisees - and in the context of Paul's instruction in I Corinthians. The Pharisees (or at least one of the two major pharisaical schools) said it was OK to divorce at any time for anything. This was unfortunately common in Israel: people, especially men, would divorce and remarry many times in their life. Jesus' main point was to rebuke this false teaching. Paul tells us, among other things, that it is acceptable for a Christian married to an unbeliever to divorce and marry someone in the church, even though the first option is to remain with the lost spouse in the hope of winning them to the Lord. Thus Jesus' teaching here must mean that divorce is not to be entered lightly. No doubt some of those who took advantage of the Pharisees’ teaching already had someone in mind to remarry. Jesus says that marriage was designed for two people together for life, and that any time we cheapen marriage by swapping out one spouse for another we are mocking God's ordinance.

Next we have the story of the rich young ruler. His main problem was not that he was rich, nor was it that he was a wicked person. His main problem was that he was unwilling to admit that he was a sinner. When Jesus confronted him with the commandments, the man said he had kept all of them his whole life. Anyone who is not willing to admit they have lied or disobeyed their parents is too stubborn to be saved, no matter if they are rich or poor.

Next we have James and John's request to be seated on Jesus' right and left hands in the kingdom. Mark does not mention that their mother actually did the asking, a detail Matthew includes. I guess Mark was trying to point out that it was them who came up with the idea first, and maybe they were too embarrassed to ask the question themselves, so they got their mother to ask for them. Anyway, they asked to sit on Jesus' right and left hands in the kingdom. This while Jesus was explaining to them how He was going to be beaten and killed by the Jewish leaders. They still did not get it, but Jesus was in the process of opening their eyes.

The last section is the story of Bartimaeus. Jesus is leaving Jericho on His way to Jerusalem when they passed a blind man, who began shouting for Jesus. Mark writes that "Many rebuked him, telling him to be silent." (10:48, ESV) I wonder who the many were. It probably included the disciples themselves. These were the same disciples who earlier in this chapter, in a section I skipped, tried to send the children away from Jesus. They thought themselves too important to be bothered with kids or blind people (I realize I'm being presumptive here). They were the seconds in command to the Messiah, and very soon they were going to be ruling Israel. But of course Jesus had time to stop and heal him, giving the disciples another lesson in humility.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

TOMS: Mark 9

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 25, 2007

This chapter opens up with the Transfiguration. Jesus revealed His true self to three of His disciples: Peter, James and John. Perhaps Moses and Elijah were there just to further prove Christ's deity, we'll never know. We do know that the disciples clearly got the message that Jesus was superior to Moses and Elijah when Peter equated the three and Moses and Elijah were taken away in the cloud and God said, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him." (9:7)

When they came down the mountain, they met a father and son in distress. The father had come to Jesus for help. When he couldn't Him he asked the disciples, but they were of no help at all. Remember that earlier in the book of Mark, Jesus sent the disciples out to teach, and they performed numerous miracles. So the father's request was not all that unreasonable. Jesus tested the father if he really believed. The father's response is classic: "I believe; help my unbelief!" (9:24) That has to be the most honest response to a question from Jesus in the Bible. We all doubt from time to time. It is at this point that we need to run back to the Lord and say "help my unbelief" just like this man did.

Next Jesus is giving an important lesson on humility when John interrupts Him with an urgent question: "John said to him, 'Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.' But Jesus said, 'Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.'" (9:38-41, ESV)

Jesus is not interested in sectarian squabbles. It is ultimately not for us to judge other people's standing before God or the legitimacy of someone's ministry. Now there are some things that would disqualify, and we are not to be blind to these things, but too often we separate or criticize people over things that do not ultimately matter.

Monday, January 26, 2015

TOMS: Mark 8

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 24, 2007

This chapter kicks off with the feeding of the 4,000. This story is very similar to the feeding of the 5,000. I guess the one thing this story shows is that fish and bread were staples of the Jewish diet. They had seven loaves and a number of small fish and no mention of a little boy, which makes this story less interesting, I guess. You never hear any sermons on it.

After Jesus had just performed this miracle, the Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign. Jesus knew that giving in to these people was pointless, that they would never be content no matter what miracle Jesus did. Jesus said very plainly, "No sign shall be given to this generation," (8:12) and left. Jesus had the advantage of omniscience, but He still knew not to waste time on people who were not going to believe. It's hard to follow this example, of course, because we can't read people's hearts, but if this and many other incidents where Jesus brushed off people mean anything at all, it means that we should not waste our time hammering away at people who show no interest in receiving the Gospel. As Jesus Himself said, don't cast your pearls before swine.

Later in this chapter we have a very odd story. Jesus enters Bethsaida (remember Bethsaida was one of the cities Jesus pronounced woe upon in Matthew) and a blind man asks to be healed. Jesus takes the man out of town and heals him. After He healed him, Jesus said, "Do not even enter the village." (8:26) We don't know whether Jesus did this miracle before or after He pronounced judgment on the city, but once again it is clear that Jesus has already left the people behind. How very sad. I wonder if the people were even aware that Jesus had written them off. Unlike many that we saw previously in Mark, this man apparently obeyed when Jesus told him not to tell anyone.

The last section of this chapter is one of the central passages of the New Testament: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." (8:34-38, ESV)

This passage speaks for itself.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

TOMS: Mark 7

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 23, 2007

Jesus was the ultimate iconoclast. I know that is an ironic statement, but it is true. He was not afraid to rock the boat, especially when it came to the stupid rules forced upon people by religious leaders. They came to Jesus, complaining that the disciples were not properly washing their hands. This ritual handwashing was a long process of turning the hands a certain way and then dumping water over them. This was not a sanitary washing, but a religious ceremony. Listen to Mark's statement about them: "For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches."(7:3-4) Mark was providing background to his mostly Gentile readers who would not be familiar with the Jews' rules.

Jesus blasted the Pharisees, saying, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"(7:6-7) The Pharisees certainly did not see this passage as a prophecy about them, but Jesus applied it to them anyway, with vehement force.

Many people of Jesus' day saw their salvation in observance of the dietary and washing rules. I don't have the quote in front of me, but a noted rabbi of the time said basically that salvation is found in handwashing. This is the kind of foolishness Jesus was attacking. Yes there were dietary restrictions in the Law of Moses, but they were never intended to provide favor with God. They were intended as a sign to the nations around them.

Then Jesus attacked the ultimate taboo: dietary laws. A lot of people do not realize the magnitude of what Jesus said here: "'Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?' (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, 'What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.'"(7:18-23) Mark's comment in parenthesis is critical and earth-shattering. Remember that even Peter in the book of Acts refused to eat unclean animals, yet Jesus said right here that all foods are clean, to a Jewish audience. Mark's comment was no doubt directed at his Gentile readers who might come under the influence of the judaizers, but it does not change the truth that Jesus declared the dietary laws null right then and there.

The other parts of this chapter we have discussed already when covered in Matthew.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

TOMS: Mark 6

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 22, 2007

Jesus had already been rejected by the religious/political establishment, and here Jesus' popularity among the common people begins to wane. He is still popular - this chapter includes the feeding of the 5,000 - but things are beginning to change. The changes begin in his home town of Nazareth. The people there could not get beyond the fact that He was a hometown boy, the son of Joseph the carpenter. They said, "'Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?' And they took offense at him."(6:2-3)

These people were not pleased that Jesus had become a great rabbi. In some way it is a testament to His relatively normal childhood that the people were surprised when Jesus began His ministry. They were like the girl's family in "Million Dollar Baby." When she was only living up to her own potential, her family could not understand because they thought they knew her and did not like the fact that she was making herself better than them. I'm not making an equalization of the Bible and a movie, I'm just pointing out that the writers had an insight into human nature, something that has been exhibited in all times. I think most of you understand that.

Next we have the ministry of the disciples. I can't say that I really know all about why Jesus did this. Most likely it was to divert attention from Himself.

Meanwhile, Mark interjects the story of the murder of John the Baptist. Herod is a pathetic figure. He is obviously dominated by women, as his wife Herodias (who was also either his cousin or his sister) demanded that John be put in jail for preaching against their marriage, and then Herodias' daughter, presumably from Herodias' first husband Philip, danced and had Herod behead John. Herod saw something in John, because "when he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly." (6:20) If only Herod had valued righteousness more than women, John would have been free to preach. Such is the heart of anyone who rejects God. They will at times seem interested, but when the final decision is made, they reject Him.

We will have plenty of opportunities to discuss the feeding of the 5,000 in more detail, but I want to mention one thing here. When Jesus tells the disciples to feed the multitude, they indicate in their reply that they have 200 denarii with them. 200 denarii is a lot of money, about $10,000 in today's economy. Don't get the idea that Jesus and his disciples lived in abject poverty. The Bible mentions several names of people who supported Jesus' ministry. Most of the disciples had commercial trades, and Jesus himself would have obviously been good at anything He put his hand to. Just a thought, not sure what it's worth.

Next we have Jesus walking on the water. It is strange that Mark does not mention the fact that Peter walked on the water. In fact only Matthew mentions it out of the three records of this event. (John also records it.) There is a verse at the end of this section I had not noticed before: "And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened."(6:51-52) The disciples themselves did not really understand everything Jesus was teaching them. Jesus had told them to go across, and yet they were afraid in the storm and did not trust in the same Jesus who had just fed between 15,000 and 25,000 people with five loaves and two fish. How many times do we lack faith in a similar fashion?

I wanted to get to this last section, because a lot of people skip over it. Jesus came back to, or at least near to, the land of the Gadarenes. When Jesus first came there, they chased Him away because He had ruined their pig farm. But now they had time to take in what a wonderful thing Jesus had done for the demon-possessed man, and the former lunatic had time to tell them all about it. This time they came in droves. This man was Jesus' first missionary, and he did an outstanding job. What a wonderful testimony to the power of one man to change people's hearts: "And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well."(6:54-56, ESV)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

TOMS: Mark 5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 21, 2007

This long chapter basically tells two stories: the maniac of Gadara, and the raising of Jairus' daughter along with the healing of the woman with the issue of blood. We've already discussed these stories, so this will probably be brief.

The first thing I notice is that these people were presumably Jews living in the area on the other side of Jordan. You remember that the tribes of Gad and Reuben and half of Manasseh did not cross the Jordan with Moses, but occupied land on the east side. This is why it is called the land of Gadara, for the tribe of Gad. It is unlikely that the people there were actually of the tribe of Gad, for that is one of the so-called lost tribes, but the Jews who lived across the Jordan were always less serious about their religion than the Jews in Israel proper.

Their lack of religious fervor probably explains the pigs the people were raising. What was worse, they did not care about the poor man. As long as he was under control and not messing with their lives, they never gave him a second thought. So when Jesus healed the man and chased the pigs into the sea, all they were concerned with was their livelihood. It was not until after Jesus left and the man began to live among them and tell everyone that they "marveled" at what Jesus had done. This is an important lesson for us. It is so easy for us to get caught up in making money and trying to get through our lives that we miss the miracles God is doing in our midst.(Of course you understand what I mean by miracles. One of these days I will go through the biblical definition of a miracle, which is different from what we think of.)

Well, let's go ahead and do that. Biblically, a miracle is proof of a special calling of God upon a person. Miracles in the Bible basically occurred with only three great people and their successors: Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and the Apostles. If you count the time of the Judges, which could be viewed as an extension of the time of Joshua, then that takes care of just about every miracle in the Bible. But even the Judges, such as Gideon and Samson, did not have the power that the six mentioned above did. They merely had miraculous things happen to them, just like Daniel and Jonah. But the six could command that something happen, and God made it so.

This is why it is so dangerous when people today claim to see miracles all the time. My question is, whose ministry is God commending before all the world? I know that God accomplishes wonderful things in our lives, and in the common understanding of the word it is not incorrect to call it a miracle, but remember that a true miracle is always performed by someone who is demonstrating God's power to a skeptical world: Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, Peter, John, Paul.

Let's not even start with people today who claim to perform miracles. Most of these miracles are dubious at best. The Catholic Church also counts reappearances as miracles, so an appearance of a saint in a pizza seen by some wacko can get a person sainthood status. As you may or may not know, you have to perform two miracles to be a saint in Catholicism. I hope I don't need to say too much about the quacks on TV today who perform "miracles."

Monday, January 19, 2015

TOMS: Mark 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 19, 2007

This chapter includes many of the parables in Matthew 13, so we will kind of gloss over them. It starts with the parable of the sower. I'm sure you've heard plenty about this parable, but it is about four kinds of people who hear the gospel. Three are lost; only one shows fruit of salvation. After Jesus tells the parable, the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke in parables. Jesus replied,
"And he said to them, 'To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that 'they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.'"(4:11-12)

I don't think this can be said enough, because so many people out there think Jesus told parables because He wanted everyone to understand. That wasn't the case. As we talked about in the previous chapter, many of these people had already rejected Him. In a way, we could say that Jesus was merciful to them by obscuring the truth. That way they could not be judged more severely for rejecting Christ’s clear message. These people experienced, whether they knew it or not, one of God’s most fearsome judgments: that of being left alone.

The next section tells the parable of the lamp and the basket. Mark's version puts a different spin on it, though. Jesus says that the light of the lamp will bring everything to light before God. I wonder why there are different versions of similar teachings of Jesus found in the different Gospels. Some would say that different people remembered the teaching differently, but I think it is mainly because Jesus used the same stories and illustrations in different situations and different audiences. That just makes more sense to me.

The next parable is of a bag of seed. A man planted it, but doesn't know what kind of seed it is. But when the seed comes up, he harvests it. This one has a similar message to the one that follows it, the parable of the mustard seed. The kingdom of God progresses slowly, and no one can understand or even see when it grows, but grow it does, with God's help.

The last section tells the story of the calming of the storm on the sea. I need to go.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

TOMS: Mark 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 18, 2007

This is one of the most profoundly sad chapters in the Bible. When somebody tries to tell you that the Gospel writers painted an impossibly perfect picture of Jesus, point them to Mark 3. This is the point in Mark's gospel that the people begin to turn on Him. We should probably look at Mark 3 and 4 together, but we're not going to. Tomorrow night's post will discuss Mark 4, and you can remember that they are really one passage, probably all taking place on the same day. Who am I kidding? Of course I'll remind you.

Anyway, Jesus is going about teaching and doing miracles. He was wildly popular, so much so that Mark records this: "And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him.” (3:9-10)

Then Mark records Jesus' attempt to get some privacy, and things start to go downhill: "Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, 'He is out of his mind.'"(3:20-21) His own family said He was insane.

We'll jump over the next passage for a moment.

Jesus' family did more than just say He was crazy. "And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, 'Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.' And he answered them, 'Who are my mother and my brothers?' And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.'"(3:31-35, ESV) His family were coming to take Him away. To the crazy house. At least His brothers were. I have a hard time believing that Mary would have been accusing Him of insanity, but apparently she came along, probably to be a voice of reason and compromise. Jesus knew what they were doing and did not play along. He basically told everybody listening that family didn't matter much to Him, and all that really mattered was listening to Him and obeying God.

In the passage we jumped over, Mark records the scribes' accusation that Jesus was doing His miracles in the power of Satan, or Beelzebub. Jesus accused the scribes of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, a sin that could never be forgiven. The reason such a sin can never be forgiven is that only an unregenerate heart totally hardened to the gospel could ever make such a statement. Could someone repent of that sin of unbelief and be forgiven? Yes, I think it is possible. Luke records in Acts that a significant number of priests and Pharisees believed in Jesus. Could that number have included some of the ones who accused Jesus here? Yes. But no one who keeps on rejecting Jesus to that extent can ever be saved. I believe that's what it means when it says that such blasphemy can never be forgiven: not that a person can never change, but that a person who maintains such a false belief about Jesus can ever believe.

When I read passages like Mark 3, when Jesus makes some really harsh and seemingly uncaring statements, I often wonder what I would think of Jesus if I was around back then. How would I react to someone who makes such strange statements? Would I think He was crazy like His brothers did? It's easy to dump on the people who reacted poorly to Jesus, but I say that we need to cut them a little slack. If I came across a religious teacher saying such things, I would be likely to dismiss him too as maybe a little off his rocker. You must remember that most of His family later believed in Him; at least two of His half-brothers, James and Jude, wrote books of the New Testament. Just be thankful that the Lord has opened your eyes to the truth, much like He opened His family's eyes.

Friday, January 16, 2015

TOMS: Mark 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 16, 2007

I'm sorry I haven't posted in a while. It's just negligent of me. Anyway, I won't post again in a couple of days, because my grandpa passed away and I will be at his funeral.

In this chapter we start with the story of the man lowered through the roof. I love this story, as I told you when we discussed this in Matthew. Jesus is teaching a house full of people, and all of a sudden, some dirt starts to fall on some of the people. There are strange noises on the roof. Soon a patch of light breaks through. The patch gets bigger, as stuff falls onto the people below. Then a bed with a man on it comes slowly down through the opening. That would have been a great sight to see. And don't bore me at this point with a discussion on how first-century houses were built. That's missing the point entirely. No one drops through the roof to just visit someone. These guys were desperate, especially the man on the bed, who was willing to be lowered in such a precarious manner. Ever wonder how many times he almost fell out of the bed on the way down?

Once again we see Mark the psychologist as he records something Luke and Matthew do not: "They were all amazed and glorified God, saying 'We never saw anything like this!'"(2:11) This isn't a very significant thing, but it is noteworthy, simply because the others don't record it. Mark seems to be on the edge of the crowd, taking as much interest in what others were saying about Jesus as what Jesus himself was saying.

Next we have the call of Matthew. We discussed this earlier, as there are only three explanations: Matthew and Jesus spent a lot of time together beforehand or Matthew went to hear Jesus teach a lot or we have an extreme example of irresistible grace, in which the one called immediately responds. It could be a combination of those three, but don't discount God’s calling grace.

Next we have the story of Jesus and the Sabbath. Evidently Jesus had quite an entourage. During His time of popularity, He must have had people of all stripes traveling with Him, commenting on everything He did, because here we have the story of the disciples eating wheat in the field on Saturday, and the Pharisees criticizing. Jesus gives them the story of David who ate the shewbread when he was hungry, and then made a startling statement not recorded by Matthew or Luke: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath." (2:26-27, ESV)

All record that Jesus said He is lord of the sabbath, a definite claim to deity, but only Mark records that Jesus added that the sabbath was made for man. This was the greatest crime of the Pharisees: they were turning something God intended to be a blessing into a burden and something to be dreaded.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

TOMS: Mark 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 12, 2007

Mark bounces from one topic to another very quickly, so that's what we'll do. He just jumps in with a brief summary of John's ministry, mentions the baptism and the temptation, and then jumps into Jesus' ministry. Matthew and Luke take four chapters to cover what Mark covers in 13 verses.

Mark was probably an eyewitness to at least part of Jesus' ministry, but he would have been quite young. It is interesting to note here that Mark is the only Gospel writer to mention that Jesus was "with the wild animals" (1:13) during His temptation. Obviously there were no eyewitnesses to this encounter; Jesus must have described it later. Details about wild animals would have been interesting to a young boy hearing the story, while the older writers were listening to the details of the temptation, which Mark leaves out. Mark's youth may also explain why he omits so much of Jesus' teaching. As a young boy he would have not been allowed to be close to Jesus, but he could see what was going on and hear different reactions in the crowd.

The calling of the disciples is always interesting to me. In most of the accounts Jesus just seems to pop out of nowhere and say "Follow me," and these people change their entire lives to follow Him. John's gospel gives us more insight into how Jesus got to know at least some of the disciples before He called them, but still, it's amazing.

The next section is the first example of what I mentioned last night about Mark recording other people's reaction to Jesus. A demon-possessed man publicly confronted Jesus, loudly proclaiming Him as the Son of God. Jesus casts the demon out. Then Mark writes,
“And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.(1:27-28)

In the next section, Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law. We assume that Peter was the oldest of the disciples for a number of reasons; one is that he was married. Later, as one of the leaders of the new church, he even took his wife when he traveled establishing churches. Did Peter's wife travel with Jesus, too? Or did she stay at home? How did she feel about Peter spending all that time with Jesus? That's an interesting dynamic that Scripture never really tells us anything about.

Mark apparently had a special relationship with Peter. There are several instances in which Peter is mentioned along with the others, including verse 36 of this chapter, which reads, "And Simon and those who were with him searched for him." I know that's awkward, but that's typical of Mark.

That passage around verse 36 has to deal with Jesus preaching in Galilee. He went out by Himself and was praying. Peter and the other disciples came looking for Him, because everybody wanted to hear Him. Jesus said, "Let us go to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out."(1:38)

Jesus did everything He could to avoid the spotlight. Here He was, the biggest thing to ever hit Galilee, and the disciples were loving all the excitement. They wanted to stay there and soak in some more of it. But Jesus said let's get going to places we haven't been yet. Despite His efforts to keep a low profile, the people flocked to him, insomuch that "Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter." (1:45, ESV)

Everybody was excited about Jesus. He was a rock star. Let's keep an ongoing record of the attitudes people showed toward Jesus in Mark. Early on they were thrilled just to be near Him. Things won't stay the same.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

TOMS: Matthew 28 and Intro to Mark

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 11, 2007

This chapter tells the story of the Resurrection. Matthew tells us very little about the events of the Resurrection, except for one detail that once again demonstrates one of Matthew's purposes: to demonstrate the depths to which the Jews had sunk in their rejection of Jesus:
“While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, ‘Tell people, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.” (28:11-15, ESV)

The Jews were willing to lie to themselves and to their fellow Jews to keep the truth about Jesus suppressed. Matthew wrote this just in case a Jewish Christian heard this story and believed it might be true.

So that wraps up the book of Matthew.

Mark is quite different. Mark is a psychologist. He is more concerned with other people and their reaction to Jesus. Not that he does not faithfully record important events in the life of Jesus- of course he does. But he also investigates the reactions of the disciples, the people whom Jesus healed, and His opponents. Mark is dreadfully honest and painfully forthright in his descriptions of Jesus' ministry, writing about how His own family mocked Him and how many people who seemed to be honest in seeking to know Jesus were offended by the things He said. And in many cases, I can hardly blame them. But we'll get to that when we get to that.

As a journalist, I identify with Mark's gospel. His writing is brief and to the point. And Mark seems more concerned with the human impact of what Jesus did. I know there are plenty of comparisons between the Gospels, but here is mine: John is the omniscient narrator. He tells us many times what Jesus was thinking or what Jesus knew. He interjects a lot of his own (inspired) commentary into the story. Matthew and Luke are in the front row, feverishly writing down everything Jesus says. They are the court reporters. They give us long stretches of Jesus' teaching. Mark is on the fringe of the crowd. He hears Jesus, but he seems just as interested in what people are saying around him. Mark records a lot of miracles and "facts" about Jesus, much like a journalist would.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

TOMS: Matthew 26

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 9, 2007

This chapter begins the story of the Crucifixion. All four Gospels approach the Crucifixion a little bit differently. John spends about five chapters on the night before Jesus was crucified, for example. Matthew just gives us the basics.

Matthew starts with a banquet at the house of Simon the leper. No doubt Jesus healed him of his leprosy. Remember that leprosy mentioned in the Bible is not the same as Hanssen's disease, which is the modern disease described as leprosy. Leviticus goes into a lot of detail describing the symptoms of leprosy, and they are not the same. I actually think I may have had some symptoms of what the Bible calls leprosy when I took some prescription medication I was allergic to. I had awful blisters all over my body and had constant fever. I switched meds and I was fine.

That has nothing to do with this. Anyway, at the banquet, an unnamed woman comes in and anoints Jesus with a flask of ointment. This is possibly the same incident described in John 12 in which the woman is identified as Mary, the sister of Lazarus. Both incidents occurred at Bethany, and both occurred during the week of Jesus’ crucifixion. This is not the same incident when a woman does something similar and everyone is shocked because the woman was a prostitute.

Next we have the scene in the upper room. Matthew just tells us that they had a traditional Passover meal and mentions the fact that Judas went out to betray Jesus. He also mentions the institution of the Lord's Supper.

I am breezing through this because this is such a long chapter, and I am sure you are very familiar with the crucifixion of Christ.

One thing I will mention at this point: Jesus Christ's death on the cross is a substitutionary payment for everyone who believes, past, present  and future. Now you may say that is so simple that everyone knows that. Don't bet too much that all Christians understand that. Obviously we don't have to understand every detail of doctrine in order to be saved. If that were true, none of us would make it. 

But listen to the statements people make: "It took just as much of the blood of Jesus to save that murderer as it did this little child," as if God has a magic eyedropper with the blood of Jesus and dabs an equal amount on all who believe. Of course Christ's sacrifice is sufficient, but it's not as if God parcels it out.

Or how about this one: "Jesus took our hell so we don't have to." The substitutionary atonement means that God treats us believers as if we have the righteousness of Christ, and He treated Christ on the cross as if Jesus had lived my life and your life. Christ died my death and your death. I know the Apostles' Creed says that Christ went to hell, but that is used in the Old Testament sense of the word as being the abode of the dead, both believers and unbelievers. (I happen to believe that all believers of all time have gone to the presence of God when they died, but that is not the traditional Jewish assumption, and it is reflected in some of the Old Testament. We will discuss this at length when we get to Luke 16.) Modern people do not think of "hell" as the neutral abode of all the dead. We think of it as the place of God's judgment against unbelief. I'm not attacking the Apostles' Creed, but I am suggesting that we read it in the sense that it meant to those who wrote it centuries ago.

Don't get the idea that He was tortured for three days. That's definitely not what the Apostles' Creed is teaching. Jesus was no sinner. God treated Him as if He was while He was dying, but once His earthly body died He was once again the great King of Kings. Hell is not a place where you pay for your sin. If Christ paid for our sins in hell, then He is still there because three days is not long enough to pay for anybody's sin if eternity is the price for one person's sin. I don't pretend to know all the answers to all the possible questions, but I just find it sad that so many Christians don't understand the basics of what Jesus did for them.

Friday, January 9, 2015

TOMS: Matthew 25

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 8, 2007

Hey, I'm sorry I haven't posted in a while, but mostly I just forgot. Right now it's halftime of the Florida-Ohio St. game, and the result has been shocking to say the least. But I must say that I'm glad. Anything that creates more chaos in college football until we get a real playoff is wonderful.

Anyway this chapter basically consists of three very familiar passages: the 10 virgins, the talents and the sheep and goats judgment. The point of the parables is that we need to be watchfully busy until the Lord returns.

The parable of the virgins is very simple. There were five who brought oil in their lamps, and there were five who did not. When the groom came, the five foolish virgins had to scramble to find some oil, and when they finally got some, the door to the wedding was locked. It's always dangerous to make a parable say more than what the obvious simple point is, so it is not wise to say, for example, that Jesus is saying that half of the professing church is not truly born again. I've heard preachers and teachers say that exact thing, and maybe you have heard that or something similar. That's just conjecture and not sound interpretation. What it simply means is that there will be many who claim to be followers of God who will not be ready when Jesus returns to set up His kingdom, and they will be shocked to find themselves on the outside looking in. That should be kind of obvious, but some folks get all excited about "hidden meanings" in the text and ignore the obvious point Jesus was making.

The second parable, the talents, has more direct application for us. A man gave one servant five talents, another two and another one. A talent was a large amount of money, more than $100,000 in our terms.

I shouldn't say anything, but it is terribly ironic that the Ohio St. band is playing the song from "Titanic" right now during the halftime show. I guess they think the Buckeyes are a sinking ship.

The ones who got five and two doubled their money through investments. The man who got one buried his money so he wouldn't lose it. God has given us all responsibilities. If we waste the ones God gives us, we will suffer loss.

Then we have the judgment of the nations. This is the judgment of the sheep and the goats. The sheep are welcomed into the Kingdom because they helped "the least of these my brothers." I believe the sheep and the goats is are the righteous and unrighteous Gentile survivors of the Tribulation. I could be completely wrong, but that's the interpretation that makes the most sense to me. During the Tribulation the Jews will be persecuted to the end of the earth by the Antichrist. Those who helped protect and serve them - clothe and feed them, visit them in prison, etc. - will enter Christ's millennial kingdom as mortals along with the surviving Jews.

As I said yesterday, I try not to make a big deal about interpretation of prophecy. But we are here in Matthew 25 and I try to have a take on it. If it doesn't happen that way, it won't shake my confidence in God the least bit.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

TOMS: Matthew 24

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 4, 2007

Matthew 24 and 25 are a minefield to try to interpret, especially 24. This is Jesus' great Olivet Discourse, where He gives a prophetic view of the future. Here's the problem I have with prophecy: it's impossible to predict with certainty what a prophecy means or how it will be fulfilled. That is why there are so many different beliefs out there about the end of the age, even among brethren who would agree for the most part on the rest of Scripture.

Primarily, this chapter in particular deals with the Tribulation Period, although the first part of Chapter 24 may be partially fulfilled in the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. And then there is a section that seems to deal with the Rapture, although there are some who dispute that.

In 24:4-14, Jesus describes the end of the age, which definitely includes our time. The next section, 24:15-26 deals with the abomination of desolation. Jesus speaks of "the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel." Well, that verse was already fulfilled (Jesus' audience would have thought) by Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century B.C. But Jesus tells us here that the ultimate fulfillment will come later. This section clearly refers to the Tribulation.

The last section of the chapter is the hardest to interpret. There are parts that seem to refer to the Rapture: "Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left." (24:40) There are those who teach that this example and others refer to being taken away to fall under God's judgment. I just don't see it. Maybe I haven't done enough study, but it seems to me that the last part of chapter 24 and the first two parables of Chapter 25, which speaks of being ready for the Lord's return, seem to be more indicative of the Rapture than of the Second Coming. Maybe I've misunderstood it, but it seems to me that for the Jews the Second Coming will be a time of absolute desperation, and they will all be looking for their Savior, but maybe they won't be. Certainly the lessons of this section are applicable to those of us who look forward to the Rapture, but I guess primarily they are for Jews to remain confident that God will not abandon them in their darkest hour.

Passages like this are not worth crossing swords with a brother over. This is certainly by no means a simple passage, and the most important lesson we need to learn is to be ready and faithful. In my experience, getting bogged down over the little details of these passages will only cause trouble where none is necessary.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

TOMS: Matthew 23

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 3, 2007

This is an incredible chapter. You need to read it for yourself. Jesus pronounces seven woes upon the Pharisees. You will never find a more scathing attack on a group of people anywhere in the Bible, with the possible exception of the chapter we discussed a few months back in which Ezekiel is given a vision of some of the wicked things going on in Jerusalem and he describes it in detail and names the names of those involved.

I am kind of rendered speechless by this powerful passage. I will just basically briefly summarize the seven woes:

1) They shut the door to the kingdom in people's faces

2) They doomed their proselytes to hell

3) They had buzzwords by which they could "swear" and really tell lies

4) They tithed out of their produce, but they neglected justice, mercy and faithfulness

5&6) (these go together) They cleaned the outside of the cup but neglected to clean the spiritual filth on the inside and they were like whitewashed graves- clean on the outside but full of dead men's bones within

7) They built and decorated the tombs of the prophets of the past, but they were about to kill the greatest Prophet, the One about whom all those other prophets were speaking of

At the end of this chapter, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, that they had rejected Him.